Monday, April 4, 2011

Gay Dude

Genre: High School Comedy
Premise: A teenage friendship is tested when one of the friends informs the other that he’s gay.
About: Gay Dude was on the 2008 Black List. It subsequently disappeared into the Hollywood ether before popping up as one of the projects on Lionsgate’s new “microbudget initiative,” a new production initiative stemming from the success of movies like Paranormal Activity. The group of movies will be shot for around 2 million dollars. The writer of Gay Dude, Alan Yang, has been quite successful since Gay Dude got him noticed. He’s worked on Parks & Recreation, sold a bromance pitch to Summit called “We Love You,” sold a spec “White Dad,” to Sony. He also has a script called “Jackpot” set up at Fox about a group of high school friends who win the lottery.
Writer: Alan Yang
Details: 108 pages – undated (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time the film is released. This is not a definitive statement about the project, but rather an analysis of this unique draft as it pertains to the craft of screenwriting).

Here’s the shitty reality about readers. They don’t always give you a fair shot. It just happens that sometimes your script hits a reader at the wrong time. They’ve read five terrible scripts in a row and are assuming yours will be the sixth. It’s been a bad day. It’s been a bad week. They just got dumped. Their boss is an asshole who deluges them with the worst of the worst screenplays to cover. Sometimes a reader is just ready to hate your script. And it’s unfair and it sucks but life is unfair and sucks so…that’s reality baby.

Gay Dude is a perfect example of that. I remember reading it during a period where I was reading seven scripts a day (due to a contest) and I’d just read four really terrible comedies whose collective awfulness had actually managed to destroy humor for 47 minutes in the world. So within fifteen pages of the sophomoric humor of Gay Dude, I had already hit “skim-mode.” (this is the dreaded mode readers get into when they’ve given up on your script).

This is the real reason I preach all this advice about keeping your writing concise, being clear with your descriptions, not writing scenes that don’t push the story forward, not adding characters you don’t need. So that you don’t lose your reader in those crucial first 10 pages. Because many readers are looking to disqualify you as soon as possible so they can skip through your screenplay and be done with work an hour early. Again, it’s unfair, but a 9 to 1 bad script to good script ratio will do that to a person.

Long story short, I felt like Gay Dude needed another shot. I hadn’t read ANY scripts on the day that I picked it up this time, so I could be sure that I was giving it the best chance to succeed. I’m not going to lie and say it blew me away or anything. But it was a lot deeper than I originally gave it credit for.

Eager Michael and chubby Matty have been friends for as long as they can remember. Now in high school, they’re only a couple of months away from prom. And they’ve decided to make an American Pie like pact to get laid before the big day is over. That’s why they…um…break up with their girlfriends?

Yeah, these two aren’t the brightest string lights at the prom dance but Michael seems to think they can do better. Except a little problem pops up before better can make his presence known. Matty informs Michael that he’s, like, gay dude.

Michael thinks he’s joking but he’s not joking. Matty likes the scrotum. Michael’s a little weirded out by this. This is, remember, a person he’s been best friends with since he was two. So he retreats into “what the hell is going on” mode before finally strapping on his support cap and refocusing on their goal – to get laid before prom. It’s just that now half of their search will include…men.

The problem is Michael becomes TOO supportive, forcing Matty to visit places like the only gay bar in town, which consists of a bunch of old dirty gay guys. Since Michael figures “gay is gay,” he assumes it’s what Matty wants. But Michael’s off-target assessment begins to grate on Matty, who eventually finds a guy his own way, and that guy becomes, well, sort of a replacement Michael.

The lack of communication feeds the downward spiral of their friendship until there’s no friendship left, leaving both friends to wonder how those two words could have changed so much.

Gay Dude made a couple of really good choices that elevated it above normal teenage script fare. The dialogue was good and Yang actually explored the friendship on a real level. Let’s start with the dialogue. The back and forth between these two was organic, witty, and popped off the page. We’d get exchanges like this one, where Michael talks about his prudish girlfriend, “It was like a sexual brick wall with Ava. The last couple of dates we were moving so slowly that we were actually going backwards. Three dates from now we would’ve been bowing to each other and speaking in formal, turn-of-the century English.” “Good morrow to you, sir.” “Good day to you, madam. Shall we wait another fifteen years to commence the fucking?”

Or this exchange, where Michael tries to find out when Matty knew he was gay. “When did you first realize this? Like, is this a recent development?” “Fuck no. Remember that guy, like when we were like seven, he used to come around the school and we would slip him half our sandwiches through the chain link fence?” “That guy was a homeless guy.” “Yeah, well, I sort of had a crush on him.” There’s a lot of fun back and forth like this throughout the script.

But what really sets Gay Dude apart is that it actually explores its characters (and their relationship) on a real level. And this is where so many amateur comedy screenplays fail. They think it’s about packing as many jokes as they can inside 100 pages. Laughs will only get you so far. Sooner or later, you need to connect with the audience. And Gay Dude isn’t afraid to tackle those confusing and frustrating feelings that come with finding out your best friend is gay at a time in your life when you’re not emotionally capable of dealing with it. Late in the script, it’s clear that if the two just sat down and talked, they’d get past this. But they don’t know how to do that. So instead they lash out each other (Michael tells Matty’s homophobic father that he’s gay) and everything gets a lot worse before it gets better.

The problem Gay Dude runs into is that it does feel a little one-note. There isn’t enough variety in here to last an entire film. I felt like the characters were having the same conversations (“It’s not easy to find out you’re gay!”) over and over again. In addition, there wasn’t enough variety in the set pieces. For example, we go to a gay bar. And then after that doesn’t work, we go to a gay rave. It’s important, especially with a concept like this which has the potential to be “one-note,” that you really try to differentiate your set pieces.

There’s also a story thread where Michael starts suspecting Matty is faking being gay that doesn’t go anywhere and actually ends up confusing the story as opposed to helping it (if he isn’t gay, why does this story matter?). It’s not a huge deal, but again, I think this stemmed from the fact that the story was one-note, and SOME sort of complexity needed to be added. I just didn’t think it was the right complexity.

Anyway, I do think Gay Dude is worth the read. It digs deeper than most comedies, which in turn makes us care about the characters, which should be priority number 1 in any genre you write. By no means perfect but a breezy 90 minutes nonetheless.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Story over shenanigans people. If you’re trying to decide between a scene in your comedy where you’re adding yet ANOTHER silly situation, or getting into the meat of your characters issues, pick the issues. Strive for a balance overall, but don’t be afraid to get into your characters real problems. Remember, we’ll laugh a lot more if we actually care about these people. Gay Dude proves that.